Kraft's Regional-Style BBQ Sauces Don't Quite Hit the Bull's-Eye

Just in time for July Fourth, Bull's-Eye is flexing its regional barbecue know-how with a new quartet of sauces designed to honor the nation's most celebrated smoked pork traditions.

The sauces are basically arguments in a bottle: No mass-produced sauce is likely to please purists in Memphis, Kansas City, Texas and the Carolinas (remember, Kraft Foods did the naming, so don't blame me for their lumping together totally divergent 'cue cultures under the rubric of a state or two.) I doubt that will come as a surprise to Kraft: The bottles' labels proclaim "25 years of BBQ experience," which I suspect translates to 25 years of hearing from folks saying Bulls-Eye wasn't barbecue sauce in their books.

So, perhaps as a conciliatory gesture -- and one that just happens to meld nicely with the local food fad -- Kraft this summer released its new themed sauces. And since the company sent me free samples, I figured it was my duty to sample them and share tasting notes with you.

Carolina style: By Carolina, Kraft apparently means the sliver of South Carolina where barbecue's served with a mustard-based sauce derived from a German tradition. The best mustard sauce is sharp and tangy, with just a bit of sweetness to complement the meat. What Bull's-Eye is peddling is something closer to a honey-mustard dressing, better suited for radish-dipping than serving alongside a plate of barbecue hash.

Kansas City: Kansas City is the only barbecue belt capital I haven't visited, which probably makes me the prime audience for Bull's-Eye's regional sauce. The sauce, the most successful of the bunch, is a dead ringer for KC Masterpiece, which most Missourians shun as not very Kansas City-like at all. But in the minds of many American consumers, for whom KC Masterpiece no doubt defines the taste of Kansas City, this would stand as a pretty good version of standard Kansas City sauce.

Memphis: Memphis sauce should be sweet, but not this sweet. Even though mustard gives the sauce a bit of a bite, the sauce should be thinner and tarter. Maybe Bull's-Eye didn't need to add the sugar and the molasses. Still, the sauce might work far away from the barbecue pit, perhaps as the first layer on a gourmet barbecue chicken pizza pie.

Texas: Unlike the Carolina and Memphis sauces, which were fairly decent if you closed your eyes and didn't think about barbecue, the Texas sauce just tasted off. The flavor was tinny and imbalanced, with unnecessary chipotle notes. I can't think of a proper application for it, but would guess some of those aforementioned purists who don't appreciate Kraft messing with the Texas name might have some ideas.

Overall, the Bull's-Eye sauces weren't terrible: I initially tasted them blindly, and could immediately tell which tradition each sauce was intended to approximate. That implies big companies like Kraft are starting to get wise to real barbecue, which is certainly a good thing. But the moral of the story -- especially for a long weekend, when there's nothing else to do -- is that homemade sauce is always better, no matter which region created the recipe.

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